In Tripoli, residents are painting the town red, green and black, the new colors of the Libyan revolution.
Under Moammar Gadhafi, the regime strictly controlled the images that were allowed in public. Storefronts had to be painted green. English was banned on signs. Anti-regime graffiti was quickly painted over and could be met with a harsh response.
Since the fall of Gadhafi, graffiti is appearing all over Tripoli, much of it denouncing the former regime and declaring Libya “free.” New murals are also popping up across the capital, giving Libyans a chance to vent their pent-up rage toward Gadhafi.
Under a highway underpass, there’s a caricature of the former dictator, his hair sticking out wildly as he gets flushed down a toilet. Depicting Gadhafi as a rat is also an extremely popular theme.
On a recent evening in Tripoli’s Fashlum neighborhood, 15-year-old Mohamed Mahmoud Fujani has just finished painting a picture of Gadhafi, clutching his Green Book as he is shot out of a canon. Libyan students were forced to study the Green Book — Gadhafi’s political manifesto — in school.
Fujani says even a few weeks ago, before Gadhafi fell, it would have been impossible to make murals like this one.
“If you do something like this,” Fujani says. “They will kill you.“
A Range Of Paintings
Not all of the new paintings are anti-Gadhafi. Some are images of rebel fighters thrusting their AK-47s victoriously above their heads. Some are simple slogans: “We Win or We Die” and “Libya is free.” Next to Fujani’s Gadhafi picture there’s an image of a wild-eyed Sponge Bob Squarepants waving a rebel flag.
Fujani’s 18-year-old sister, Rihada, is painting a mysterious life-size figure with just one eye, sort of a veiled, Muslim Cyclops.
She says she is drawing a woman wearing a white hijab, the traditional clothing of Libyan women.
To Rihada, the painting represents that under the old oppressive regime, women were watching.
Rihada can barely contain herself when she talks about the revolution, which began in February and lasted six months before Gadhafi was toppled. She calls the uprising “a new rose, a beautiful scent, a breeze.”
“What a lovely freedom breeze came from the 17 February revolution. It’s a whole new feeling. I hope we can be better than before,” she says.
A few blocks away another group of young artists are gathered on the main street of Fashlum.
Mohamed Abou-Setta enthusiastically points to the various images and slogans on the wall behind them.
“As you see here, this is the map of Libya. And this is our flag,” Abou-Setta says.
Another painter is making a portrait of Libyan national hero Omar Muktar, who was executed by the Italians in 1931 for opposing the colonial regime.
An estimated 30,000 Libyans died in the uprising against Gadhafi, according to the new health minister.
Abou-Setta says this wall is also going to be a monument to the local martyrs.
“We are trying to make something here, a big board, to write all the names of the people who are dying here in this street,” he says.
He says the mural is a celebration of the victory over Gadhafi, but it’s also a place to remember how much that victory cost.